The Art Rooney Scholarship Fund—The Other One

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 28: Chris Hoke #76 of the Pittsburgh Steelers talks to fans during the Super Bowl XLV Pep Rally on January 28 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

The 24th Annual Gatorade/Steelers 5K Race, Fitness Walk and Kids’ Kickoff Run will be held on Sunday, September 2, at 9 a.m. at Heinz Field. The race benefits the Art Rooney Scholarship Fund. Former Steelers Chris Hoke and Aaron Smith, who both retired this offseason, will chair the event.

Thus begins this announcement on Steelers.com. The Art Rooney Scholarship Fund was established after the death of “The Chief” in his memory, and each year scholarships are presented to three students from the Northside high schools, The Chief’s old stomping grounds. Rooney lived most of his life in the same modest home near what is now the stadium. It greatly impressed me to find he had felt no need to move into a McMansion, preferring to live near the stadium so he could have a daily chat with the groundskeepers.

But The Chief isn’t the only Art Rooney, and this scholarship fund is not the only one in existence, either. The way I found out about the other Rooney scholarship is a good Saturday morning story:

Earlier this summer my husband and I attended a sixtieth birthday party for some friends near Lancaster, PA. We decided to stay overnight rather than making the four-hour drive both ways on one day, and thus found ourselves in a lovely bed and breakfast in Strasburg, PA, called the Limestone Inn.

As is the customary etiquette at such places, during the communal breakfast we and the other guests asked questions about each other’s occupations, interests, and so on. A young couple celebrating their first anniversary turned out to own a farm, which he cultivated while she worked as a nurse. An attractive young woman was revealed as the producer of a rather bizarre and edgy-sounding show on MTV, and her partner, an equally attractive young man, teaches multiple disability special needs children.

The other woman there turned out to be an author, and quite a successful one—her 32nd novel just hit the bookstores, although most of them are written under various pseudonyms, which is standard operating procedure for romance novels, I gather. When I revealed my connection with Behind the Steel Curtain, said author volunteered that she had been the recipient of a writing scholarship at college, from a fund established by Arthur Rooney Jr.

Shelley Bates (the name of said author) went to Seton Hill college in Greensburg, PA, and while she was there was encouraged to go in for the scholarship. She submitted an excerpt from a romance novel she had written, and was one of the two prizewinners that year. She received what she said was a very kind letter from Rooney, who told her he had always wanted to be a writer.

I was naturally very intrigued by this story, got Ms. Bates’ card, and asked if I could contact her later for more details. She very kindly said yes. I asked her whether the novel ever got published, and here’s what she said:

Yes, the story I won the scholarship for was indeed published--it was a romance called "Her Private Eye" and it was released by Harlequin in 2003 under one of my pseudonyms. It was a Reviewers' Choice award finalist at RT Book Reviews magazine that year as well. I've subsequently had the rights reverted, retitled it, and published it myself under a different pseudonym. Still selling after all these years :)

(The new title is “Caught You Looking,” and you too can own a copy if you have a Kindle or Kindle app by clicking here.) She went on to say:

The scholarship made a huge difference to me because it was the first time I had received encouragement and validation in an "official" way. Yes, you get nice comments from the faculty and your student critique partners in the program, but this was above and beyond that. And while I used it [the scholarship money] on air fare to get to the residencies, it meant more than that to me--as did the letter I received...I remember how kind Art was, and how he encouraged me to keep writing.

Although she lives in San Francisco, she still visits Pennsylvania on a regular basis. She is adjunct faculty at Seton Hill, and many of her novels are set in Amish country, which is where she grew up. (When we met she was researching for a new novel.) It seems you can take the girl out of the farm, but apparently you can’t take the farm out of the girl, because she, along with her husband, keeps chickens. Rescue chickens. Here’s the story:

[O]ur first bird was a runaway hen who left the place she had been living and came back to her old neighborhood. She took up residence in our garden, so my husband built a coop and run. And once you open yourself up to chickens, they come ... people began calling when they needed to rehome a bird ... I came out one Saturday morning and there was a black hen in a cardboard box on my porch. My husband rescued a half-grown chick on the freeway one afternoon ... and then there was the Ugly Box at the pet store (story here.)

But enough about chickens. After I heard this story I realized I knew nothing whatsoever about Art Jr. (I actually know a fair bit about chickens. My memories aren't nearly as interesting, or happy, as those of Ms. Bates.)

I set about to redress my lack of knowledge about the enigmatic Mr. Rooney. Those of you who have been fans much longer than I have are probably aware he was the Director of Scouting during the 70s, when the Steelers first became a force to be reckoned with. And yet you hear very little about him. It’s an interesting family dynamic, at least to me, given how visible his brother Dan is. But from the way Ms. Bates described the letter, he sounds like a very private person, and presumably prefers to stay out of the spotlight.

I ran across the following article in which Rooney spoke about his dad to the Wheeling, WV "Lunch With Books" club. There's a couple of great stories about The Chief in it.

So this weekend there is a big rib cookoff and a race and lots of family activities down at Heinz Field while three students prepare to college, thanks in part to the Rooney family. And at Seton Hill perhaps a young student will quietly work on a story this year in an unused corner of the library, polishing it for submission to the scholarship competition, a scholarship which is available thanks to Art Jr. Two different styles, but both manifestations of the Rooney family tradition of service to the community.

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